This past Sunday, October 1st, the New York Cosmos hosted Puerto Rico FC at MCU Park. The news that the North American Soccer League (NASL) are suing the U.S Soccer Federation (USSF) has settled in over the past week. Those closely following the story heard details from the media call earlier this week, primarily led by Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, Attorney Jeffrey Kessler and NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got to MCU Park Sunday. Would the club pursue a media campaign and speak publicly on the topic again or will it remain at a lull until the hearing at the end of October?
When I arrived at the stadium, I was told Rocco Commisso would be interviewed at halftime on MSG Networks. In addition, instead of the usual post-match press conference where one or two players are tapped to discuss the match, three players – the captain, Carlos Mendes, Danny Szetela, and Andres Flores – will discus the USSF’s decision to withdraw the NASL’s Division 2 sanction in 2018.
At halftime, Rocco Commisso made his way up stairs to the press box for his interview. He warmly greeted me with a hug, and we briefly chatted. Rocco mentioned that he would like to come on the show; hopefully we can have him on soon.
Rocco made his way to the MSG broadcast position and did the interview during the halftime break. They opened with a discussion on Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, how it affected PRFC and how the Cosmos felt compelled to help by hosting the team and donating half the match’s ticket receipts to Carmelo Anthony’s Puerto Rico relief fund. They then started talking about the lawsuit. Rocco went into more detail on the subject.
When the Cosmos play-by-play announcer on Sunday brought up the topic of the lawsuit, Rocco said “Shame on anyone who tries to shut our club down. It starts with the vey top of United States Soccer, given the history of the Cosmos given what they promised me what they committed to do back in January. We played our first match on April 1st. I can’t do everything in four months. In less than five months they want to put us out of business.They want to do that frankly because of the conflicts that exist in the world of soccer. What I’m referring to right now is that the MLS which is the big league in town. They have two teams here in New York and, by the way, owned by two foreigners – one from Austria and one from Abu Dubai. I come to every game of the Cosmos; I doubt that any of them have ever gone to watch as many games as I’ve watched this year. I’m an immigrant, grew up in the Bronx, went to school at Columbia in Manhattan, worked in Brooklyn, my kids were born in Westchester County. I’m really a local guy, and nothing has been done to make sure that Rocco and his team are allowed to play going forward.”
The lawsuit against the U.S Soccer Federation is crucial for the Cosmos future; their unusual levels of outreach in the past couple of weeks show that. Rocco and the Cosmos used their resources to spread the word on the topic. A media press call was scheduled; interviews with Rocco; Jeffrey Kessler, the NASL’s chief litigator in the lawsuit has sat with Sports Illustrated and other media outlets; Eric Wynalda made an appearance at this Sunday’s match and shared his opinion with the press; Carlos Mendes, Danny Szetela and Andres Flores were made available for a post-match press conference. Danny Szetela’s opening remarks showed how important the NASL really is for U.S Soccer. (We will have more on Danny’s opening remarks.. Article coming soon)
During the second part of the interview with MSG Networks at halftime during the Cosmos v Puerto Rico FC match, Rocco asked: “What is the reason for the lawsuit?
“On April 1st they basically said to me after they gave me division two status once I came in, that the league and the Cosmos will not be sanctioned as a D2 league. Why are they doing that? Given the conflicts U.S Soccer our regulator and MLS and everyone is aware of those conflicts now they are coming to light. There are billions of dollars of value, millions, a hundred million whatever that number is .. That has been thrown by U.S Soccer to MLS enriching the owners of MLS in the expense of people like me. I have received zero from the organization. In fact our entire league has spent over 50 million dollars this year to support the eight teams that we are involved with. Shame on them, shame on anyone who wants to shut us down which is in fact what they are doing for stupid standards. Which they changed as they saw fit, to the extent that it made sense for the MLS. What they have done instead is to put us out of business and that’s the reason for the lawsuit.
“I came in with the Cosmos, I was written all over that I would only play at D2 and less than 9 months since I bought the team they want us to be D3. With stupid standards, standards like we have to be in three time zones. We are in three time zones we just happen not be in the central time zone. Standards like the ownership standards, the net worth of the owners of a team in the NASL, well they are probably at one point in time the MLS had four owners that owned 10 teams and everybody knows that story so they change that rule. At one point in time you only need 12, 8 or 10 teams. They started changing the rules this is before my time but they view the NASL as a huge threat to the monopoly power of that MLS has for U.S Soccer. The whole purpose of this lawsuit is to see whether they are right. We expect, we hope to have an injunction relief come by no later than October 31st as soon as we get the injunction relief the team will play next year. Than we don’t have to worry about the damn rules of the organization. Than we will settle this in court. Everybody should know out there that I’m going to fight this until I have the last drop of blood. Whoever is the president of this organization, whoever is involved with making that decision should be ashamed of themselves.
Towards the end of the interview Rocco began to reveal the depth of his passion and sense of being wronged. He was really getting mad, and we feel his pain. As a supporter you don’t want to see your club’s future made uncertain at every single offseason. We finally have an owner that will fight for the supporters, and to be more careful with overall league stability. He is a fan of the game just like us. Rocco wants to see U.S Soccer be successful and the people that run the game in this country are holding us back. Like what Rocco said: there are conflict of interests. The people at the top are making money, and they don’t care about the game. As long as they are making money, they don’t care about the NASL or the other leagues that need funding to succeed.
One thing many people forget in this game is that, yes the owners are rich but investing in professional soccer in the U.S. (and in most of the world) is a bad investment. This is not the Premier League where owners take in somewhere between fifty to one hundred million dollars every single season. All the money the Federation makes they should put back into the game. That means having money go down to the state associations or leagues. Some money should be available to the NASL, USL and NPSL for prize money for the league championships. This is not hard; all we need is a federation that cares about the game and is open to listening to the fans, club owners, players and league staff.
I want to thank Rocco for talking openly on the broadcast. As a Cosmos supporter, that’s a good thing not a bad thing. Supporters throughout the NASL and the country will look at this and better understand the current state is bad for our club and American soccer in general. With an owner who will stand up for what’s right, we have hope again for the future. Rocco and the club will not end with this message; why should they? The Cosmos and the league’s future depends on the Court’s ruling for the first form of relief which is to let everything remain as the status quo until we get an official decision from the court. Anything they do to better show the harm and costs at risk is a step in the right direction.